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Destination Deline

Backgrounder: Indigenous-Led Conservation: Creating Jobs & Economic Opportunity

Indigenous-led conservation is proven to generate good-paying jobs, unleash investment in regional economies and provide certainty for industry. At the same time, it is helping Canada meet commitments to conserve nature, address climate change and advance reconciliation.

Right now, about 60 Indigenous Guardians programs operate across the country. Guardians are trained experts who manage lands and cultural values and monitor development.

Three Indigenous Protected and Conserved Areas (IPCA) have been established since 2018, and an additional 27 are in development with support from the Canada Nature Fund. IPCAs sustain healthy landscapes and clean waters. They also elevate Indigenous Rights and Responsibilities, representing a modern application of traditional values and Indigenous laws and Indigenous knowledge systems.

Many other Indigenous Nations have proposed creating IPCAs and launching guardians programs. Added federal investments in Indigenous Guardians and IPCAs will make it possible to create new job and business opportunities and build more resilient economies.

Indigenous Guardians Programs Generate Jobs

Guardians programs offer good-paying jobs and create outsized benefits in small communities—each job supporting family members and purchases in the local economy.

  • Northwest of Yellowknife, the K’asho Got’ıne hired seven guardians to partner with federal and territorial scientists on wildlife research in March 2019.

  • The Łutsël K’e Dene First Nation guardians program employs 10 people in the summer and 4 in the winter—a big impact in a community of 300.

  • The Dehcho First Nations plans to employ 23 guardians this year.

Indigenous Protected & Conserved Areas Spur Regional Investment

Many guardians co-manage IPCAs, and their work generates spending at the local and regional level.

  • Łutsël K’e Dene First Nation drove the 2019 creation of Thaidene Nëné Indigenous Protected Area, one of the largest protected areas in the country. This past winter, LKDFN spent $500,000 in boats, snowmobiles and other gear to help co-manage the protected area. The vehicles were purchased in Yellowknife, where they will receive ongoing servicing from local businesses.

  • The Dehcho First Nations led the establishment of the Edéhzhíe Dehcho Protected Area/National Wildlife Area in 2018. Several guardians co-manage the site, and the program expects to make significant investments in equipment and infrastructure in 2020, injecting more money into NWT businesses.

Certainty for Industry

Guardians support land use planning, which identifies areas for conservation and places where development can be considered. They also work with industry and regulators to support local, cost-effective monitoring.

  • The Minaskuat Kanakuataku of the Innu Nation in Labrador monitor Voisey’s Bay Mine—the largest nickel mine in the world. They also manage fisheries in partnership with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, and co-manage forests with the provincial forestry department.

  • The Dehcho K’ehodi Guardians program monitored repairs to an Enbridge pipeline under the Mackenzie River near Fort Simpson.

  • In a time of increasingly constrained travel, guardians are poised to be increasingly critical partners in on-the-ground monitoring and research for industry and academia alike.

Building Now for Revival of Tourism Sector

Post-COVID, many experts anticipate an enhanced focus on domestic over international travel and increased interest in nature-based tourism while maintaining social distance.

  • New IPCAs managed by Guardians can help lay the groundwork for a range of new business opportunities for Indigenous entrepreneurs and their communities. They also offer a greater variety of tourism experiences, attracting a diversity of new clientele in these regions.

  • Outside of Fort Good Hope, NWT, K’asho Got’ıne guardians are working to build cabins and clear trails in the newly created Ts’udé Nilįné Tuyeta Indigenous Protected Area and Territorial Park. This will serve as the basis for community use of the area and early infrastructure for the IPCA.

  • The Kaska Dena Council is working with over a dozen guide outfitters—including Kaska-owned companies—on plans for operating in the proposed Dene K’éh Kusān Indigenous Protected Area in northern BC. The conservative estimate of revenues generated by guide outfitting in the Dene K’éh Kusān is between $6 million and $7 million annually.

Return on Investment in Social, Economic and Environmental Benefits

In addition to creating immediate jobs with multiplier effects for local and regional economies, investments in Indigenous Guardians and IPCAs can also offer savings to governments and taxpayers.

  • Australia committed over $1.5 billion to Indigenous Protected Areas and Indigenous Rangers. Research shows $1 invested in joint IPA and Ranger programs generates $3 in social, economic and cultural benefits, including reduced income support, health spending and justice costs.

  • Researchers used similar methods in Canada to evaluate two guardians programs in the NWT of Canada. They determined that Indigenous Guardians in the NWT found a social return on investment of $2.50.

Cost-Effective Path to Meeting Canada’s Commitments

IPCAs are the single most effective way for Canada to achieve domestic and international conservation goals, including the commitment to protect 25% of lands by 2025 on the path to 30% by 2030.

  • Meeting Canada’s new commitments will require an unprecedented scaling up of conservation efforts; IPCAs offer the most ambitious proposals for protecting large, intact landscapes.

  • Indigenous-led conservation represents a highly cost-effective approach to both establishing and managing protected areas, particularly compared to conservation of private lands or places with significant overlapping industrial interests.

  • Many IPCAs serve as giant storehouses of carbon. The community of Deline has proposed protecting the Great Bear Watershed, which holds more than 4.5 billion tonnes of soil organic carbon – equivalent to over 20 years of Canada’s annual industrial GHG emissions.